Imagine this: You're an average, middle-aged engineer and builder, a father, husband and resident of a traditional-values town in Nebraska. Over a short period of time, you come to realize you've spent the last five decades of your life being intermittently abducted and studied by aliens.
Quick - what do you say to your wife? And if you're the wife, what do you reply?
John Foster doesn't remember what he said exactly. His wife remembers a little more. "I laid in bed and said, `Oh yeah?' " she recalls.
Foster does remember the fear he experienced when the memories began to pound a crack in the mental wall he believes aliens erected to prevent him from remembering.
Slowly, he says, he remembered thousands of encounters, and even the size and shapes of the ships or enclosures into which he was taken. He remembered an examining table, an alien with a wig ("To make you more at ease," she told him) and conversations with extraterrestrials who called themselves the "monitors of the Earth."
The emerging memories shattered him. "I was completely devastated," he remembers. "I had to change my concept of what reality was."
Coming out isn't easy for those who have spent years in the UFO closet, and Foster, now 53, says he's deeply grateful for the support he finally found in groups such as Seattle's UFO Contact Center International.
At an open house yesterday at West Seattle's Camp Long, the UFO Contact Center's director and founder, Aileen Bringle, said her group acts primarily to help people "examine and assimilate their traumatic abduction experiences."
That might include hypnosis or group support, said Bringle, who started the group after what she believes was an other-world encounter in 1953, when she awoke from a nap in a car being driven by her husband to find the nighttime Oregon landscape fully illuminated by bright green lights.
Now there are 17 centers around the U.S., and the local group holds two meetings every month - one open to the public. (For more information, call 946-2248.)
Wearing a silver mylar top and UFO earrings, Bringle isn't shy about her work. She explained that she has become a hypnotist, working with those who have had "abduction experiences" to help them recall - the first step to assimilating.
"They get depressed. It's a whole change of life, a change in the way you see everything," she said.
After John Foster began remembering his experiences, he looked for others who had had similar encounters, he remembers. "I couldn't find anybody. I almost went crazy," he says.
"For over a year, I thought I was the only one in the universe who had this knowledge."
His wife, Annie, believed him but couldn't really offer much, she says. "Even as much as I care about John, I couldn't really understand. I could support and empathize, but I couldn't really understand it," she says.
Finally, he found a group similar to Seattle's UFO Center in Nebraska, which brought him together with a number of others who believed they'd had encounters with aliens. It was an incredible relief, he recalled, to be able to share and compare his experiences with others.
Yesterday, Foster talked to a group of about a dozen who gathered at Camp Long and showed the skillful pencil drawings he made of his experiences, including renderings of spaceships and long-limbed aliens.
His thousands of visits with these aliens, he said, included ceremonial events similar to initiations, and a "time travel" visit to a huge project to come, a swath of learning and healing centers, orphanages and nursing homes from the Mississippi River to Jackson Hole, Wyo. He will have a role in that project, he believes.
Foster has finally gotten comfortable talking about the encounters, he said. The first time he discussed them, about three years ago, he remembers feeling traumatized. Right afterward, he had a heart attack, which he said the aliens predicted.
These days, Annie Foster said, their lives are settling down. "At first, our lives were obsessed. It creates quite a strain in a family," she said. "As time goes on, it's getting better. It doesn't consume our lives - we can actually do other things."
He's not sure what the UFO encounters mean, but John Foster's sure what he'd say to others: If you've had an experience, he says, "Get help as soon as possible, because it's really devastating."